Decoding Unknown Words: What to say besides “Sound it out?”
When approaching an unknown word, we want the children to balance phonics and context. Their attempts should make sense and include the sounds they would expect to see in the word they are saying. I encourage children to STOP at unknown words and think about what is happening in the story. If their attempt does not make sense they should try another strategy to attack the word BEFORE skipping it or asking an adult. They should be reading with their eyes only and not tracking print with their fingers, but the finger can come back in to help with a tricky word. Running a finger under each part of the word as they stretch out the sound can help check themselves and find the part you might be making a mistake on.
- Give them some wait time.
- “Are you right?”
- “Look at the picture.”
- “Say the first sound. What would make sense?”
- “If it was ___________, what sound would you expect to see at the beginning? At the end?”
- “Can you think of another word that would mean ________?”
- “How does the word start? End?”
- “What other sound can that vowel make?”
- “Go back and read the sentence again.”
- “Do you see any little words you know in that word?” Cover parts with your finger to break the word into smaller more manageable pieces.
“Do you know any parts of that word?”
- “Think of a word that rhymes that would help or a keyword?”
- “Could it be __________?”
- “Start that sentence again.” (Forces them to use punctuation by starting at the last capital).
- “Does that make sense? What would make sense that would start/look that way?”
- “Did that sound right?”
- “We saw that word before in the story. Let’s go back to that part.”
- “Read the rest of the sentence and then go back and try it again.”
- “Say blank or pause in place of the word and think about what would make sense.”
And my favorite, which requires them to go back and find their own errors:
Keep working on Fluency and expression:
- “Read that again. Make it sound like talking.”
- “Put that all together now.”
- “See that question mark. Say this part again and change your voice to match.”
- “How is this character feeling now? Can you make your voice sound like that?”